Kevin Pietersen, without a Test century for 18 months and dropped from England's one-day side at the end of the summer, is more used to criticism than praise these days, but his coach Andy Flower yesterday tipped him to be a "stand-out" performer during this winter's Ashes series.
"I expect great things from Kevin," said Flower. "He is very motivated to do well for England and he wants to make a big contribution. This is a great stage on which to do it, and he is an exceptional player – a very talented player, a special player actually, and I just expect him to be a stand-out on this tour."
Pietersen will now head to Australia this Friday with a ringing endorsement which will be a pleasant change as Australians, especially, have been lining up to have a pop at him in recent weeks – even John Buchanan, their former coach, who has done some work for England this year. He described Pietersen as an individualist – the insinuation being that he is not a good team man.
But Flower insisted: "Kevin is an integral part of our side, and a very healthy part of our side. He's an exceptional cricketer but also a role model in the way he trains and the way he goes about his business. We are all quite comfortable with his role in the side, both as a player and a team member."
Whether or not Pietersen can rediscover his Midas touch with the bat is what concerns England fans. He went to South Africa in the autumn to play domestic cricket but made 36 and nought in two innings.
"I think he did some good work out there," said Flower. "I think he feels confident. He hit a lot of balls, practised hard and worked with a guy in [coach] Graham Ford who he, and I, have a lot of respect for. It has been a good experience for him."